As part of the celebration of the Walker’s 50th Regis Dialogue and Retrospective event—Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain—we asked local and national film critics (many of whom have been Regis Dialogue interviewers themselves) and film exhibition programmers to weigh in: In 25 words or less, what is your favorite Coen brothers’ film, and why? As you’ll see below, the question was so intriguing that several could not limit their answer to 25 words. Every person we asked chose a different film to laud—certainly a testament to the breadth and depth of the Coens’ work.
The 13-film retrospective kicks off on September 18th with the directors’ cut of Blood Simple, for which we are pleased to be screening the Coens’ own personal print. Following the film, the entire audience is invited to a reception in the Bazinet lobby. I’m confident this question of favorite Coens film will arise many times that night!
I have a special dark place in my heart for Blood Simple. It’s a magnificent first movie, filled with tension and glorious, murderously flawed individuals. —Euan Kerr, Senior Editor, Minnesota Public Radio News
Miller’s Crossing: “Simply a great gangster movie.”—Florence Almozini, BAMcinématek Program Director
“Like the underdog protagonists in so much of their work, my favorite Coen Brothers’ film is an underdog black comedy with a less than appealing title—Barton Fink. It’s not the most entertaining of their films (Fargo, hands down) nor their most innovative (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), but it remains their only film to date situated in the belly of the beast—Hollywood. It features a Harold Lloyd-bespeckled John Turturro in the titled role as a successful dramatist lured by the promises of studio system only to end up saddled with writing a wrestling picture. Barton Fink is, in other words, an allegory of the treacherous artistic journey that the Brothers, themselves, must navigate each time they begin a new feature project.”—Bruce Jenkins, Professor, Department of Film, Video, and New Media School of the Art Institute of Chicago, former Curator of the Walker Film/Video Department. Regis Interviewer for The Brothers Quay: Alchemists of Animation, 1996 and Stan Brakhage: The Art of Seeing, 1999.
The Hudsucker Proxy: “The Coens’ first big-budget effort is no studio picture compromise. It’s an unclassifiable, deliriously funny riff on 1950s workplace dramas, hula hoops, the clockwork machinations of fate, and karma, the great circle of life. You know, for kids!”—Colin Covert, film critic, Star Tribune
“I’m going with Fargo. I think it’s their most humanistic film, and those devastating final scenes with Marge feel like the perfect/bewildered response to the Reagan/Bush era.”—Chris Hewitt, film critic, Pioneer Press
The Big Lebowski: “Whether it’s because the Coen Brothers hail from these parts, the expression of true feelings has never been their characters’ strong suit—or their own. But as The Big Lebowski‘s climactic bear hug signals direct communication more warmly than anything in their oeuvre, I’d say the Coens have finally looked into their heart.” —Rob Nelson, film critic, excertped from City Pages (publication date: 1998).
O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “The Coens’ decision to treat traditional American music as a living presence makes this eccentric, picaresque period comedy perhaps the warmest production in their entire repertoire. And the music is superb, which doesn’t hurt.”—Kenneth Turan, film critic, Los Angeles Times. Regis Interviewer for Alexander Payne: A Sideways Glance at America, 2005.
The Man Who Wasn’t There: “You will not soon forget Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thorton), the antihero and narrator of the Coen brothers’ unforgettable neo-noir, with its sharp black-and-white photography and nonjudgmental tone.”—Howard Feinstein, New York-based film critic and a selector for the Sarajevo Film Festival (excerpted from the 2001 Sarajevo Film Festival catalogue). Regis Interviewer for Bela Tarr: Mysterious Harmonies, 2007.
“Fargo is my absolute favorite, but Burn After Reading has grown on me the most. What seemed initially as silly and slapdash, a retro take on the ’60s Cold War spy movie, now feels like an entertainingly astute and up-to-date crafting of movie stars, genre storytelling, and satire that outshines most other recent attempts to re-invent the espionage film.”—Scott Macaulay, editor Filmmaker Magazine, co-editor FilminFocus.com. Regis Interviewer for Gus Van Sant: On the Road Again, 2003.